Well, Bush has really done it this time. If you have found yourself in a hole the last few days, Bush authorized illegal domestic wiretaps over three dozen times during his presidency. Worse yet, the Times knew about this story for over a year before publishing it because the Bush administration asked them not to in the months just before the 2004 elections.
Here is a list of info to help you understand the legal and social ramifications of a president circumventing the judicial and legislative branches of a democratic government:
From the EFF, a description of FISA:
FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which establishes a legal regime for “foreign intelligence” surveillance separate from ordinary law enforcement surveillanceâ€¦ FISA is aimed at regulating the collection of “foreign intelligence” information in furtherance of U.S. counterintelligence, whether or not any laws were or will be broken.
From Atrios, the actual law:
FISA makes it a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, to conduct electronic surveillance except as provided for by statute. The only defense is for law government agents engaged in official duties conducting â€œsurveillance authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order.â€ [50 U.S.C. Â§ 1809]
From that little thing, the Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment IV:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
From Wikipedia, the definition of a dictator:
In modern usage, Dictator refers to an absolutist or autocratic ruler who governs outside the rule of law. However unlike the Roman original, they rarely use it as a title, for it is generally used by their opponents as a term of abuse for totalitarian rule, just like despot and tyrant (also unlike Antiquity). Dictators often acquire power in a coup d’Ã©tat, or by suspending the existing constitution.
In regards to needing to speedy wiretaps, TPM has researched the law:
It turns out that FISA specifically empowers the Attorney General or his designee to start wiretapping on an emergency basis even without a warrant so long as a retroactive application is made for one “as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance.” (see specific citation, here).
Finally, there is no evidence that Bush should have needed to circumvent the FISA court. On the contrary, they approved all 1228 wiretaps requested in 2002!!! From no other than John Ashcroft (via C&L):
During calendar year 2002, 1228 applications were made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for electronic surveillance and physical search. The Court initially approved 1226 applications in 2002. Two applications were “approved as modified,” and the United States appealed these applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, as applications having been denied in part. On November 18, 2002, the Court of Review issued a judgment that “ordered and adjudged that the motions for review be granted, the challenged portions of the orders on review be reversed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s Rule 11 be vacated, and the cases be remanded with instructions to grant the United States’ applications as submitted…” Accordingly, all 1228 applications presented to the Foreign Intelligene Surveillance Court in 2002 were approved.
As Senator Feingold said, â€œHe is a president, not a king.â€